I was enjoying a coffee in Central London when Niall McDiarmid texted me to see if I was available to film a talk Roger Ballen, the acclaimed American photographer, was about to give in London for Independent London Photography. I said yes. The short film below – shot that evening at the Rudolf Steiner House Theatre in Regent’s Park – encapsulates only a tiny bit of what Roger Ballen talked about. And I won’t pretend it does more than just scratch the suface of the complex and at times dark world of Roger Ballen’s art.
He relocated to Johannesburg, South Africa, several decades ago and initially photographed South African villages (or ‘dorps’ in Afrikaans, hence the title of his 1986 book), and their houses. But, as he himself admitted, he knocked at one of those houses’ doors once and his life changed forever then and there.
He discovered a different world inside, a world which fascinated and inspired him for years. His subsequent works focused on the people who inhabited those dorps, on their relationships with the world around them and with themselves.
While Ballen’s focus might have shifted throughout the decades, his technique has remained constant. As he admits in the video, he is “obsessed with the square format” and believes that every part of the picture has an equal purpose or role to play. Ballen doesn’t believe in photo manipulation or use colour in his photography.
This video should offer a tiny glimpse into his world. It definitely offers the best, and the most succinct advice for photographers of all abilities I’ve ever heard from a seasoned photographer …
If you live, or happen to be, in Manchester before 13 May, you should definitely spend some time at the Manchester Art Gallery, where Roger Ballen’s images are displayed as part of his Shadow Land exhibition.